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Paul Conrad/Aspen Times WeeklyBest Ski Run: Highland Bowl

All rise. Highland Bowl is simply Aspen’s favorite ski run. Between the lung-busting hike, the Elk Mountain views, the seemingly endless turns, the variety of lines, and of course the steep pitch and deep powder, there’s simply no contest.There were 36 vote-getters in this category, but with 33 votes the Bowl outshined them all by far.Second place went to Ruthie’s with six. Snowmass’ AMF got five, and Temerity, Long Shot and Face of Bell each garnered four.One discerning snow-slider wrote “depends on the day” and another optimist said “any and all.” We’ll agree with the latter.

Once again, cross-country skiers wax enthusiastically about the Owl Creek Trail. Well, they voted for it, anyway, and no wonder.This trail offers everything the classic track and skate skier could want – a groomed route that offers stiff climbs, swift descents, creek crossings, big views and rolling, wooded terrain. OK, there’s the occasional mansion that pops into view, too, but ignore them. Stretching from Tiehack at Buttermilk to Snowmass Village, the Owl Creek Trail is home to the Owl Creek Chase nordic race, offering a worthy challenge to serious racers as well as lesser mortals.

There were 24 entries in this category (are there really that many shrines out there?), but only three received enough votes to be actual contenders. The Grateful Dead must still be hip, because the Jerry Garcia shrine on Aspen Mountain won with 21 votes. The John Denver Sanctuary in Rio Grande Park came in second, despite being a landscaped sanctuary and not really a “shrine” in the informal-nook-in-the-woods sense of the word. The Elvis shrine came in third with 14 votes.Whatever happened to Marilyn Monroe and Ludwig the Dream King?

It should come as no surprise that voters pegged American Lake as the best hike around, given the crowds one typically encounters on its shores. You need to get a mighty early start if you want a moment of solitude when you reach this popular emerald above the Castle Creek Valley. On the way down, it’s not unusual to encounter upwards of 50 or more late-rising hikers making their way up, at least on summer and fall weekends.Despite the crowds and (according to one of our own, who hiked up early this summer) complete lack of trout in the lake, scenic American Lake is a great hike upward through stands of aspen and meadows of wildflowers. And it’s relatively easy by local standards – 1,970 feet of elevation gain over 3.2 miles from trailhead to lake.

Maybe we screwed this one up. We should have separated this into two categories, because roadies have their favorites and mountain bikers have theirs. Inadvertently, we probably skewed the vote.Whatever the case, the Maroon Bells won with 19 votes. Must have been a bunch of road riders on that one. The Rio Grande Trail was the runner-up with 14, but we weren’t sure whether that was a road ride or a mountain bike trail. Depends on where you jump on …Trailing just behind was the mountain bike classic, the Government Trail, with 10 votes. Eighteen others got at least a vote each.Oh well. We’ll clean up this category next year.

We were a bit surprised by this one. The Maroon Bells seem to get all the glory, and Mount Sopris, the monarch of the midvalley, won last time around. But perhaps it’s that gun-sight view of Pyramid Peak from Highway 82 that pushed it over the top this year. Or maybe the long, complicated scramble to the summit. Whatever – Pyramid is tops for 2005, with a whopping 33 votes.Other Elk Range fourteeners weren’t even close. The Bells got 14 votes and Capitol won five, as did Mount Daly. Sopris got 16 votes and a slew of other peaks from Aspen Mountain to Mount Elbert made the list as well.

There were 21 vote-getters in this category, many of which were from some individual’s house. Certainly those private views are enviable, and they often include a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres as well. But they didn’t have the numbers.What views did? The Smuggler Mountain platform took first place with 26 votes, and the gondola got second with 19. The “top of Red Mountain” earned 14 votes and Sunnyside, which is near the top of Red Mountain, got another four. The Ute Trail overlook got 10 as well.We got a chuckle out of “rearview mirror.”And we’re not running a photo with this category because, well, it’s pretty much mandatory to hike up Smuggler and look for yourself.

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